Mavs beat Rockets 88-86 to keep slim lead over Utah, Houston

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) looks inside as Dallas Mavericks guard Raymond Felton (2) defends during the first half. (Ron Jenkins)

J.J. Barea scored 27 points and the Dallas Mavericks kept a slim cushion over Utah and Houston in the race for the last two Western Conference playoff spots with an 88-86 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night.

The Mavericks' fifth straight victory - one shy of a season best - put Dallas (40-38) a game ahead of Utah and two up on Houston with four games remaining for all three teams.

Dirk Nowitzki was limited to seven points on eight shots, but had a crucial strip of James Harden on a drive in the final seconds with the Mavericks clinging to a one-point lead.

Harden scored 26 points and Dwight Howard had 14 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who are in danger of missing the postseason a year after reaching the West finals.
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